Other than Robert Heinlein, in a category of his own, George, the Smith who wasn’t nicknamed Doc, was the beau ideal of the writing engineer that John Campbell panted for. Dropping out of the University of Chicago after a year, he survived the Depression by learning radio repair and making himself into an engineer. He’d later recall that, “I was among those kids who wound doorbell wire around an Oatmeal Box in the mid-twenties; and who listened to the famous Dempsey-Tunney ‘Long Count’ heavyweight battle on a radio set of my own build.”
Smith wrote steadily but wasn’t overly prolific, especially with longer works. His popularity meant that most of what he wrote got gobbled up for book publication. Gnome had already done that twice when a newcomer appeared with the same idea. Avalon Books, an imprint of Thomas Bouregy and Company, published popular fiction like mysteries and romance, and in 1956 thought that the underserved science-fiction niche might complement them. Avalon paid less than the mainstream, less even than Gnome, so they got the leavings. Frederik Pohl looked at their lineup and said they seem “to be pursuing a policy of printing the worst books by the best writers.” No matter. Any money for old stories was meaningful in the 1950s. Smith sold three old Startling stories to them as books. As if Greenberg didn’t have enough troubles. He went back a decade and resurrected an even older Startling story here, but the implications were grim. If he couldn’t compete for new work and the older works he preferred were being picked to the bones, how many more rabbits could he pull from his hat to stay alive?
The Path of Unreason is traditionally listed as the first book published by Gnome in 1958. That’s not just wrong: it’s incredible. The evidence against that date is overwhelming. The book actually appeared sometime in the second quarter of 1959, more than a year after the supposedly later Methuselah’s Children and The Survivors.
True, the book has a stated copyright of 1958. Nevertheless, something odd happened between getting it registered and its production. The Catalog of Copyright Entries lays it out: “25Jul59 (in notice; 1958).” Translated, that means that the Copyright Office received the book in 1958 but for some unknowable reason, the critical registration didn’t take effect until July 25, 1959. The eight-month lag is inexplicable. One earlier Gnome book was submitted too late in the year to be processed until the next year, but that delay was presumably much shorter. Travelers of Space was in notice 1951 but carries a January 3, 1952, registration date.
That Path sat on a desk for months after submission doesn’t affect its copyright status. The book could be and was disseminated long before July 25, 1959. The importance of the 1959 date is that although theoretically the book could have been submitted anytime in 1958, even January, an early month is fantastically unlikely.
Such an inference is bolstered by the physical evidence. Nobody outside Gnome and the Copyright Office reported seeing the book in 1958. The first newspaper mention of the title comes in a May 7, 1959, Moline [IL] Dispatch announcement of new books at the East Moline Public Library. Path is listed among Cone of Silence (registration date January 26, 1959), The Hour Glass (February 18, 1959); Menace from the Moon (February 20, 1959), Solomon and Sheba (February 18, 1959), and Beauty is a Beast (April 9, 1959).
One additional piece of contemporary evidence is compelling. A New Frontiers fanzine, cover dated December 1959, starts its review of the novel with: “The book bears a copyright date of 1958 but wasn’t mailed until 2 April 1959.” Combined with the May newspaper mention, a late March or early April 1959 date of release must be accepted. That – and the fact that it has the later back panel – is why I dithered incessantly but finally decided to list Path after Purple Pirate as a 1959 release.
Another item to perplex bibliographers is the book’s exact title. The dust jacket, normally the first item a reader sees, displays Path of Unreason on the front cover, the spine, the listing of books on the back page, and the front flap. However, the title page, the half title page, the other books by page, and the spine of the boards all read The Path of Unreason. ESHBACH, CHALKER, and KEMP list Path of Unreason as does Frederik Pohl in his review in the January 1960 issue of If. The copyright registration notice, ISFDB, and CURREY go with The Path of Unreason, along with Floyd C. Gale’s review in the December 1959 Galaxy. That first report by the Moline Dispatch has it as Paths of Unreason. I consider the book’s text to be more authentic than the dust jacket and the copyright is definitive. The Path of Unreason it is. For the record, the one reprint the novel received, a 1975 Ballantine paperback, uses The Path of Unreason on its cover.
P. Schuyler Miller, Astounding Science Fiction, February 1960
This new book is a mystery with a lady-or-the-tiger twist, over which I am sure the author will be delighted to have you arguing ad infinitum.
Floyd C. Gale, Galaxy Science Fiction, December 1959
The struggle of the physical hero, barely returned from the brink of insanity, to convince his psychiatrist that Earth is suffering under alien rule, is truly frustrating.
Contents and Original Publications
• Chapters 1-21 (rewritten and expanded from “Kingdom of the Blind,” Startling Stories, July 1947).
The Path of Unreason, by George O. Smith, 1959, copyright registration 25Jul59, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 58-8766, title #74, back panel #40, 187 pages, $3.00. 5000 copies printed, 2000 remaindered. Hardback, gray boards, spine lettered in red. Jacket design by W. I. Van der Poel. “FIRST EDITION” on copyright page. No printer designated. Manufactured in the U.S.A. Back panel: 32 titles. Gnome Press address given as P. O. Box 161, Hicksville, N.Y.